With the exception of maybe “free beer” and “cat fight,” there isn’t another two-word phase that revs up a red-blooded American male more than “March Madness.” (OK, for us married guys, perhaps hearing “I’m sorry” from the wife would rank up there … if we ever heard it.)
So to commemorate the start of the NCAA Tournament, this week’s picks feature four teams I believe offer strong value on the futures board. Two of them are legit Final Four contenders, one is a dark horse and one is a pretty big (but very familiar) long shot.
I went 2-1 last week to win $390, boosting my bankroll to $6,610, as I continue to try to shake off my Super Bowl loss.
Please note: Future odds vary significantly from sports book to sports book, so when making any wagers (be they on these teams or any other), I highly recommend shopping around to ensure the best payout possible.
$100 (to win $700) on Syracuse (7-to-1): Think of this year’s “Big Dance” like the Academy Awards. Kansas and Kentucky would be Avatar—both are flashy and both take the “wow” factor to new heights. But like the movie, I fear Kansas and Kentucky are more style over substance. On the other hand, Syracuse is The Hurt Locker: Little was expected when the season began, but the Orange consistently delivered solid, if unspectacular, performances, and like The Hurt Locker, Syracuse is an entity whose sum is greater than its parts. Also, the Orange possess two ingredients that are key come tournament time: They have a great coach in Jim Boeheim and they’re strong on foreign turf, as they won their first 11 games away from home before losing at Louisville in the regular-season finale. Just as The Hurt Locker upset Avatar to win Best Picture honors at the Oscars, don’t be shocked if Syracuse is cutting down the nets in Indianapolis in three weeks.
$30 (to win $540) on Ohio State (18-to-1): Basketball is the one team sport in which a single player can win a series of games by himself. Ohio State has such an athlete in Evan Turner, the favorite to win NCAA Player of the Year honors. Turner has averaged 19.5 points, 9.4 rebounds and 5.8 assists per game, scoring in double figures in each of the Buckeyes’ final 16 games. Those numbers don’t look extraordinary until you realize the 6-foot-7-inch forward missed a month of the season because of multiple fractures … in his spine! I banged my thumb on the edge of the counter earlier this week and almost couldn’t type this column; Turner broke bones in his back, came back a month ahead of schedule and dominated the Big Ten. He helped the Buckeyes end the regular season on a 13-2 run, and while Turner is a beast, he’s hardly a one-man show (three teammates average at least 12 points per game). Ohio State also has a veteran coach in Thad Matta and the kind of toughness needed to make it to Indy. $15 (to win $750) on Wisconsin (50-to-1): I call the Big Ten the Kim Kardashian conference: very top-heavy with a lot of junk at the bottom. The 11-member league had four quality teams that were ranked most of the season, and while Wisconsin trailed Ohio State, Michigan State and Purdue by a game in the standings, the Badgers defeated all three of those teams and finished 23-7 overall and 13-5 in conference. Wisconsin, which had additional quality nonconference wins over Maryland, Duke and Marquette, ranked third in the nation in points allowed (56.1 per game); and coach Bo Ryan is one of the best in business who has taken the Badgers to the “Big Dance” 12 straight years, advancing to the Sweet 16 four times with one Final Four appearance.
$10 (to win $1,500) on UNLV (150-to-1): Why not? Assuming they get an invite (a virtual certainty), there are four reasons to believe the Rebels can make a magical run: 1) Coach Lon Kruger knows how to navigate a team through the tournament; 2) UNLV had nine true road victories this season (10 if you count a neutral-site win); 3) the Rebels are extremely deep, as 11 players average at least 10 minutes per game; and 4) If you buy into history, it was 20 years ago this month that UNLV won it all. Hey, I can think of worse investments at 150-to-1 odds.
Matt Jacob is a former local sports writer who has been in the sports handicapping business for more than four years. For his weekly column, Vegas Seven has granted Matt a “7,000” bankroll. If he blows it all, we’ll fire him and replace him with a monkey.